The beauty of ice

The beauty of ice

I was blind. Alone. Before I started I knew it might be bad. People were saying the buses weren’t running. When the bus drivers can’t make it, it’s bad. Petra is high. But every road out of Petra is up. To the north and to the east, you have to climb to the crest of…

Read Full Post

The Round Trip

The Round Trip

I’m not sure when I first read Yuval Ben-Ami‘s travel writing. It was almost certainly on a recommendation from my friend Lisa Goldman, who I met one motor-mouthed evening at a pavement café in a mildly hipster part of Tel Aviv during the pre-hipster autumn of 2009. I was there to research this story for the…

Read Full Post

Chaos theory

Chaos theory

Aerial shot of a particularly messy car park, right? Almost. That is, in fact, the main Nile Corniche road running north-south through central Cairo, as seen from my hotel balcony earlier this year. I watched for ages. Try and figure out what each driver is trying to do. Such spirit. Such a delicate dance between…

Read Full Post

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain launched the new series of his ‘Parts Unknown’ travel cookery show on CNN this week with an episode titled ‘Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’. You can watch it here: It’s had pretty positive reviews. The Washington Post thought it was “so good“. The Open Zion blog called it “groundbreaking reporting“. Amer Zahr,…

Read Full Post

CNN’s Israel-Palestine travel intro

See backstory here. . 10 Things To Know Before Visiting Israel and Palestine (original) By Matthew Teller – my original below, CNN’s version here . The Holy Land makes for inspiring, depressing, fascinating, confusing travel. To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel. To others, it’s all…

Read Full Post

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria

Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release. At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear…

Read Full Post

Is Picfair fair?

Everyone takes photos. I’m not a professional photographer – I wouldn’t call myself a photographer of any kind – but everywhere I travel I take pictures and, sometimes, editors buy them and publish them. Most of the time, though, they don’t. That’s often for editorial reasons – my travel snaps of farflung corners of the…

Read Full Post

Airline timetables online

Airline timetables online

Inspired by this fine post on the Travel Lists blog by Alastair McKenzie, bemoaning the apparent demise of the route map on airline websites – at which point, a hat-tip to David Whitley at Grumpy Traveller for his own immortal homage to KLM’s map (click to enlarge) – here’s an extra plea. Timetables (or, if…

Read Full Post

By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

I met Guido Romero for the first time 3 or 4 years ago, on a drive out of Amman with a mutual friend. Guido is from an Italian family inextricably linked with the 20th-century development of Amman. His grandfather, Dr. Fausto Tesio, founded Jordan’s first hospital, in 1921, and Guido’s mother, author, artist and gallery-owner…

Read Full Post

Postcard from Qena

Postcard from Qena

The Independent‘s sister paper, the i, has a daily “Postcard From…” strand. A month ago I wrote a short “Postcard from Qena” (a city in southern Egypt) for them, with a mini-profile of the dynamic but controversial local governor. I heard nothing back – and what with all the, er, changes in Egypt I thought it had…

Read Full Post

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

“Hope Floats” is the title Wanderlust have given to my article about the revived ‘long cruise’ along the Nile between Cairo and Luxor, published in the current issue (July/Aug 2013). I’m posting the text below – but they’ve done a beautiful job on layout, with lots of striking images, spread over 12 pages. Here’s a…

Read Full Post

Discontent on the Nile

Discontent on the Nile

On the back of my recent visit to Egypt, BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent programme recently ran a piece I wrote from Minya, a town in Middle Egypt newly opening up to foreign tourism. Click here to listen to the audio from BBC Radio 4, or click here to download the podcast (MP3 file: 13MB),…

Read Full Post

New flights to Jordan (from the UK)

I know this looks like link promotion, or a hamfisted attempt at DIY SEO, but it’s really not – there have just been some recent innovations on flights to Jordan from the UK, which I thought I’d highlight. Nothing in this post earns me a penny. For years, two aspects of air travel from the…

Read Full Post

Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

I just got back from a cruise up the Nile in Egypt. These have long been a common tourist fixture in the south, between Luxor and Aswan, but it’s been almost twenty years since cruise ships have been seen in Middle Egypt, between Cairo and Luxor. So when people on the banks caught sight of…

Read Full Post

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

[UPDATE – 3 July 2013: Since May, when I wrote this post, the situation in Egypt has changed for the worse. However, I’m not providing updated info on this page. Read on for a general overview of travel safety in Egypt, but also follow the news, ask travel companies and check your governmental travel advisory…

Read Full Post

Light shed on mystery Beirut dig

Light shed on mystery Beirut dig

A few days ago, investigative journalist Habib Battah posted a report on his (excellent) blog, describing a nosy around one of the many fenced-off plots in central Beirut. Click the link to have a quick read, first, if you haven’t already. Since I read that, I’ve also been asking around, and have come up with the…

Read Full Post

End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

For years, Israeli passport stamps have bedevilled “Western” tourists visiting the Middle East. It seems, though, that a new Israeli policy – apparently only just launched – could signal more freedom (for some) to move around the region. [NOTE: All of this applies only to holders of “Western” passports who are exempt from applying for…

Read Full Post

First hotel for Jordanian town

First hotel for Jordanian town

This overly optimistic local news piece from Jordan last December – based on this press release – seems to have been accurate. Jordan’s Arabic papers are reporting today that the lovely old Ottoman town of Salt, west of Amman, is about to get its first-ever hotel. This can only be good. Anything that draws visitors…

Read Full Post

BBC World News interview

Last night I was on BBC World News and BBC4 in the UK, interviewed by Philippa Thomas on the aftermath of the Luxor balloon disaster and its immediate impact on the Egyptian tourism industry. Video here and below:

Read Full Post

Rough Guide to Jordan

Rough Guide to Jordan

A shade late (sorry about that), this is to say that the new edition of my Rough Guide to Jordan is now out, buyable anywhere in the world as a printed book (yay!) – ask for ISBN 978-14053-89792 – or downloadable as an e-book (boo!) here. Rough Guides (in fact, the amazing Martin Dunford; how many…

Read Full Post

Journey to the mountain

Journey to the mountain

Even now, weeks later, I’m not sure why I cried. The tears were flowing before I reached the summit: I remember looking up into the blurry blue. I also remember, further back down the trail, when the old, familiar voices started to sing to me about weakness and tiredness and failure – but even then…

Read Full Post

BBC Wild Arabia

BBC Wild Arabia

After the epic that was David Attenborough’s Africa series, which ran on BBC TV in the UK recently, their next big nature extravaganza is Wild Arabia – due later this month on BBC2 in the UK (episode 1 airs 9pm on 22nd Feb, I believe). The three-part series was filmed over almost two years in…

Read Full Post

A short flight between worlds

A short flight between worlds

A travel story with pictures – shot on a veteran iPhone 3GS (sorry for the dimness). I was recently in Amman, and had to visit people in Tel Aviv. I used the bus to cross westwards but then, for complicated reasons, shelled out for the short flight back. It’s absurdly expensive – about 100km (60…

Read Full Post

A tourism revolution

A tourism revolution

Last weekend I was invited to speak at Destinations, an annual consumer-facing travel show in London. My subject was “Reshaping Middle East tourism” and, gratifyingly, if rather amazingly, something like 100 people came to listen – a vote of confidence in the idea of going on holiday to the Middle East, at a time when…

Read Full Post

Stateless in Kuwait

Stateless in Kuwait

My latest for BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent aired a couple of days ago – a report about Kuwait’s stateless bidoon (or bidun, or bedoon, not to be confused with bedouin). Before I went to Kuwait I was given a contact to bidoon activist Abdulhakeem Al Fadhli, and during my short visit to the country was able to…

Read Full Post

“Satan stays away”

“Satan stays away”

Had a wonderful return visit to Dhofar in southern Oman a couple of months ago, on assignment for the Times, who wanted a frankincense story for their pre-Christmas travel pages. I happily obliged. Here’s the link – but it’s behind a paywall, so in case you’re not a Times subscriber I’ve pasted the text in…

Read Full Post